This Christmas will be hard

Witold Dudzinski

Even during the hard communist times Christmas was merry and very familial in their home. Joanna and Janusz Krupski experienced their Christmases with their children and also with many members of their close and distant family. This Christmas will be different. And it cannot be otherwise.
How should one live with the awareness that a dear person will not come and sit at the table, will not smile and say wishes, will not sing carols? They must cope with it; they must live on although almost all things around make them remind them of the one who passed away.
‘It is hard for us, ‘says abruptly Joanna Krupska, the wife of Janusz Krupski, who lost his life in the plane crash at Smolensk. Now she must first of all care for her large family. Christmas is not going to be easy and the closer Christmas Eve dinner is the harder it becomes. They know for whom the additional plate will be set on the table on this Christmas Eve.
Their acquaintances know for sure: their marriage was successful and unique. They were not well off but they loved each other and their love was always radiant. ‘Even when it was cold in their house the atmosphere was warm’, one of Janusz’s acquaintances recollects.
Now all things have changed. Instead of rejoicing at her husband’s presence Joanna unveiled a commemorative tablet of the victims of the Smolensk crash in Grodzisk Mazowiecki. These victims included people connected with this region: Fr Roman Indrzejczyk and Fr Zdzislaw Krol, Major Arkadiusz Protasiuk and her husband.
Her acquaintances wondered how Joanna was going to care for children. Her husband was the only bread-winner. The division of roles was clear: he earned money and she was dedicated to their family. ‘If I had not been granted a special social annuity it would be very hard. Those children who are studying must have taken some jobs and they must have sold their house’, Joanna says.

Mother by profession

Joanna Puzyna and Janusz Krupski met at the Catholic University in Lublin in the late 1970s. Joanna studies psychology and worked with mentally disabled people. Janusz graduated in history and was actively involved in the post-August opposition. He was brave and uncompromising, which enchanted his future wife.
During the marshal law Janusz Krupski had to hide himself and his fiancée helped him find hiding places. But in autumn 1982 he was caught and arrested for a short time. They got married a year later. Their wedding Mass was celebrated in the chapel in Laski near Warsaw by four priests, including Fr Zbigniew Puzyna, Joanna’s uncle.
‘We had no flat, jobs, perspectives. But we decided to get married. We were in love and children were its natural consequence and our happiness,’ Joanna Krupska says.
These were hard years. The young wife worked in schools, teaching autistic children. Her low salary was not enough to support the whole family and her husband was unemployed, blacklisted and constantly observed by the secret police.
They often changed their flats; they lived in Warsaw and then in Lublin and again in Warsaw. Finally, they lived in a cottage 50 km away from Warsaw. They lived there during warm seasons and for winter they moved to their parents. Their first son, Piotr, was born in 1985. Then Pawel, Tomek, Lukasz and Jas (all sons) were born. Janusz Krupski helped his wife deliver some babies. The sixth child was Marysia, and Tereska was born after they had moved in their new house in Grodzisk (they had no tap water inside for the first year since they could not dig a proper well). Joanna Krupska, a housewife, introduces herself as ‘mother by profession.’ She has been involved in charities. She is the head of the Association of Large Families ‘Three Plus’, an expert of the Team for Family of the Joint Committee of the Government and the Polish Bishops’ Conference. Janusz Krupski was an editor. At first he directed the Publishing House ‘Editions Spotkania,’ and then he founded his own publishing house. In 2000 he became the deputy of the President of the Institute of National Remembrance. He had one vote less than Janusz Kurtyka, who won the contest. He was the head of the Office for War Veterans and Repressed Persons. Because of that post he went to Smolensk on 10 April 2010, together with President Lech Kaczynski and Prof. Janusz Kurtyka.


They will spend this Christmas without their father. So far the Krupskis have had a real Christmas tree, not a plastic one. Although Janusz often went on business in Poland and abroad he always come home for Christmas. ‘We always celebrated the fact that we were together at Christmas’, Joanna says.
Father Christmas (St Nicholas) came unnoticeably and it was usually their son Pawel that dressed up as St Nicholas. This event was always a lot of fun. His robes make those who ‘knew’ burst into laughter. The youngest daughter Tereska did not recognise him as he wore a big beard and had a pillow fixed under the robe so as to look mature (Santa Claus must have a belly). Tereska took seriously what St Nicholas was to tell her. The whole family laughed a lot on this occasion. Earlier their grandfather had dressed as St Nicholas. He had been so realistic that the boys used to hide out of fear under the table. After years the boys themselves played the role of St Nicholas. But first they had to grow up to wear the robe and the tradition passed from one son to another. They also used to stage Nativity plays. ‘Nativity, Nativity, evergreen shines and a cradle is behind it/ Jesus is born in the cradle/He will love people, live among them and walk.’ All family members participated in the play. ‘Janusz used to play the role of Joseph and I was Mary; girls and younger boys were angels,’ Joanna says. Then the children grew up and gave up acting their roles. For several last years they used to put the figures of Joseph and Mary, which they had made themselves, at their Christmas tree.
At night, after Christmas Eve dinner, they went for midnight Mass in the Church of the Dominican Nuns in the neighbouring village of Radonie. They always liked this place. The church was small, simple, brick, and stimulated prayer and reflection. And the nuns whom they loved. As they used to say, ‘such sisters-sisters.’
In Radonie on Christmas Eve, after the meal and having opened their presents they began singing carols. The nuns gathered in the choir to recite the readings from the Liturgy of the Hours and then the Krupski family arrived for midnight Mass. Most of their children went with them. As it happened for the last years they had to carry Tereska who had fallen asleep during the midnight Mass.

Orchestra plays

During Christmas Janusz was a very important person. ‘One of my sons was holding a candle while Janusz was reading the Bible. It was a really dynamic part of our Christmas celebrations. The procession came from one room and we were singing an Advent song in darkness. Then we lit candles and shared the wafers. All these things created a unique atmosphere’, says Joanna Krupska. Janusz used to lead every family celebration. He was always tactful so that all family members felt comfortable. They used to invite guests for their Christmas Eve dinners. For example, his niece with her family, their cousins, grandmothers or his brothers with their families used to come. Everyone brought something interesting, including food. Indeed, if you counted all dishes they would be twelve.
But the Krupskis did not have the traditional carp, which other people have for Christmas Eve. It was their family tradition. Once Joanna with her brother saved a carp that swam in the bath. It was not proper to kill a living creature on Christmas Eve since animals are believed to speak with human voices on that day. They secretly took the carp and threw it into the pond in the Lazienki Park.
Presents – always to make their children happy and that no one would feel ignored. ‘Our kids were not used to luxuries,’ says Joanna Krupska. ‘For children moderate poverty is better than wealth. Self-restrain is better that the possibility to meet all your needs and whims. Carols were always part of their Christmas Eve dinners and all Christmas meals. ‘We all know carols. And we have the tradition to sing carols. Six children attended musical schools and can play some instruments and even one of the sons finished a musical higher school. So we had an orchestra performing at Christmas.

Sad and hard

When they moved outside the city boundaries of Grodzisk Mazowiecki (across the road there is a village) it was an important change in the family history. The house was large; it was planned to have a large garage for two cars – but there is a large kitchen instead – as big as a refectory. The pictures and figures of saints made by Joanna Krupska and her children are placed on the walls. It created a special atmosphere and made their Christmases different than when they moved from one place to another. They spent Christmas in this house – the whole family after their youngest daughter Tereska was born.
This Christmas would have been the same – the whole family together. It will not be the sae: the plane crash at Smolensk changed everything. It happened after Easter. Only a week before the crash they had gone to their ‘sisters-sisters’ in Radonie, to participate in their special Easter procession.
‘We used to like Christmas,’ Joanna Krupska says. What will this Christmas be like? ‘Sad and hard.’

"Niedziela" 52/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: